A Long Way After Dark

“You can hear a miracle a long way after dark.”

So begins my favorite book by my favorite fantasy author, Maggie Stiefvater’s All the Crooked Saints. Call me biased, but I believe it’s a flawless opening line.

Right away, it establishes our story’s eerie tone. Our heroes listen for miracles in the pitch black night; sit and listen with a mix of hope and trepidation. Because any miracle, when it comes, will be equal parts gift and curse.

The “crooked saints” of the title are the Soria family, Mexican-American immigrants in Bicho Raro, Colorado. If you’re a Soria, you have the power to perform miracles. Well, really, one very specific type of miracle: You can make a person’s inner darkness—emotional, spiritual, you name it—take concrete, visible form. This may sound dubious. Believe me, it is. And yet, from every corner of the United States, weary pilgrims flock to Bicho Raro, begging the Sorias to work their bit of spiritual magic.

These pilgrims don’t quite understand what’s wrong with them. They know they feel sad, angry, in a rut, but that’s all. Soria magic seeks out the heart of their problem and manifests it as a visual symbol. The celebrity who hates the stress of fame, suddenly becomes a giant. A runaway bride struggling with depression and guilt becomes a literal cloud of tears. It forces another girl, with no opinions of her own, to repeat every word everyone around her says. Worst of all? It strikes blind a man who refuses the help of others…. and he flees into the desert, alone.

That’s the trouble. These miracles are supposed to help the pilgrims. Give them a chance to discover the root of their ills and tear it out once and for all. But lately, there’s a dark cloud hanging over Bicho Raro, and the miracles are putting everyone in danger. Can the Sorias save their little kingdom from their own magic—before it’s too late?

Of course they can. “Crooked” or not, they’re still “saints.”

And what’s a saint, after all, but a sinner who keeps on trying?

I love All the Crooked Saints with a fierceness I can’t express in words. I love its lost and searching heroes. I love the dark richness of its spiritual questions. I love the vivid earthiness, blues and oranges and browns of its Colorado desert setting. I love how the uncanny magic seeping through every crack undermines that same earthiness, that real-life environment grounding readers in the real world. Magical realism is my favorite brand of fantasy and Crooked Saints is my favorite example. Are we in Kansas anymore, Toto? Or aren’t we? Who knows?

Most of all, I love its thoroughly Catholic aesthetic, complete with miracles and sacred art. Like me, Maggie Stiefvater grew up in that religious tradition, and often plays with Catholic themes in her fantasy work. There are no easy answers in her world, and her God may listen in silence; but he always listens. Equally important, she paints a universe of fellow souls supporting our journey. Some of those helpers, we may see every day. Others we may never meet. But their presence echoes through the line that gives Stiefvater’s book its title—an inscription on an icon, fittingly enough, in the Soria family chapel.

“Donated by an anonymous benefactor,” it reads, “for all the crooked saints.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jessica Prescott is a former homeschool student and current graduate student, pursuing a master’s degree in American history with a focus on immigration studies. In her (sadly limited) free time, she can usually be found listening to “Hamilton” or Celine Dion or Twenty One Pilots and dreaming up new ideas for historical fiction novels. Which, she hopes, will someday make her famous. Someday. She also blogs.

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